Saddle up, pardner!

Saddle up yer bike, that is.  Today was the city’s annual “bike safety rodeo”, an event that we have hosted for the last ten years.  As a commissioner on the bicycle safety advisory committee, I have had the privilege of helping to organize and staff the event most of the past ten years.  While there is no calf roping or bull riding, it’s still a fun event that is usually well attended.  Last year we had nearly 225 children who attended, which may not seem like much, but for an event like our rodeo, that is a really good turn out.

One of the activities at the bike rodeo is the safety and skills course.  Our course is intended to give riders challenges that improve balance and bike handling, as well as teaching safety skills such as riding in a straight line while checking over your shoulder, a necessity for riding busy streets.  The course this year started with weaving through cones, spaced 5-6 feet, a simple challenge that was a favorite for many of the new riders.  It moved on to a spanning station, where the rider was required to call out the number of fingers the station marshall was holding up, both while the rider was riding away and towards the marshall.

Next was a station that I call ‘sobriety test’, a 30 foot straight line that each cyclist had to negotiate without putting a foot down.  The cyclist also could not go past the end of the 30 foot line in less than ten seconds.  If the rider crossed the line too soon or veered off of the line more that five times, they had to try the skill station again.

From that station, each cyclist had to pass a volunteer who posed as a train.  If the train came into their path, the cyclist had to stop.  Once through, the next station was a figure eight — also one of the popular stations on the course.  Part of the figure eight went around a drain grate and the grade leaned towards the grate, making that part of the figure eight like a banked turn.

The final station was a ‘rock dodge’, intended to teach the skill of looking over your shoulder while going around a car.  Each cyclist finished at a certification station, where they received a personalized certificate and had their picture taken with our mayor.  Our mayor is a cyclist, who created our bike commission as one of his first tasks as mayor.  He knew me from seeing me on my daily bike commutes and recruited me as one of the original members of the commission.  Mayor loves the rodeo, volunteers for and helps with set up at every rodeo, never misses a second of each event.  After receiving their certificate and picture, each rider gets their bicycle registered with a city sticker, issued through our police explorer volunteers.

I had the privilege of planning and putting together the bicycle safety/skills course for this event.  It was fun not only laying out the course, but training and supervising the volunteers who marshalled each station on the course.  Most of our volunteers were from our high school key club, great kids who worked hard, enjoyed interacting with the kids who came through the course.  Two of the girls who volunteered were part of the middle school flute choir that my daughter was in charge of while she was in high school, so I was excited to send pictures of them to my daughter — and she loved seeing them.

There are two big draws to our bicycle rodeo.  One is that our city includes money in our commission budget for 20 new bicycles and a large number of helmets that we give away at the event.  A DJ walks around the event, interviewing volunteers and participants, calling out the winners of the bicycle drawing every few minutes.  The other draw is three professional bicycle mechanics who donate their time as well as new materials for a bicycle safety check.  They repair brakes, chains, make saddle height adjustments, replace tubes, inflate tires to the proper pressure, lubricate the bikes — and make sure bikes are safe to ride.  Usually they find a way to make sure a needy child’s ticket gets drawn in the bike drawing.  They also inspect all the new bicycles before they are given away.  This year, they also assembled the majority of the bicycles that were given away.

There is also an area where people can drop off their tired or unused bicycle, where an organization  called Working Bikes Cooperative collects them for repurposing.  It’s funny to see those bikes being taken away at the end of our event.  The Coop volunteer carefully stacks them into the back of the tiny Toyota pickup truck, the sight of the tall stack of bicycles reminiscent of something you would see in a third world country!

After it’s all done, we’re treated to a nice meal of Potbelly sub sandwiches.  It’s such a great event to be a part of.  I love it!


Sometimes You Have To Force Yourself


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The title says just about everything.  Truly, absolutely, if you want to benefit, then you need to force you to do things you do not feel like doing.

Anyone who rides a bicycle or runs or trains understands what that means.

Springtime means that I am going to have an allergy induced cold.  I have one now, a cold I felt coming on yesterday morning when my nose started to run.  My mother and I both are afflicted at the moment, an affliction we genetically share.  Yesterday afternoon, after my office manager and I attended a trade show together in the morning, she came into my office to discover me with my head back against the head rest on my office chair, asleep.  That has never, ever happened.  But the oncoming cold had kicked my butt and I could not resist.  I managed to make it through the afternoon at work, hoped to come home and load up my bike for a trip around the trails.  Instead, I occupied the couch in my living room, fell asleep for over two hours.

I should have forced myself to ride.  It was a picture perfect day.  Had I avoided the couch, I likely would have felt 100% better after the blood started flowing.

Maybe.  Maybe not.  Just maybe I needed the rest.  I know that I slept soundly through the night.

However, I was not going to let one more day pass without riding.  After all, it has rained 11 out of the last 14 days, limiting my riding opportunities.  It is a good thing that the trail system that I ride dries out very quickly.  So I loaded up my bicycle and ride clothing in my car before work, the idea being that I would drive out to the trails from the office.

It worked.  I did just that this evening.  My head was three feet thick from the cold, but I rode.  My plan was to ride the full 7 miles of trail, then stop.  However, when I was just about finished, I met my friend Greg on the trail.  Greg is 15 years younger, a much more experienced rider than I am.  Greg asked me if I wanted to ride with him, so I kept riding, adding another 30 minutes to my ride.  Not only that, but following Greg always teaches me something.  I watched him navigate a section of trail that I have never, ever been able to conquer.. until tonight.  I watched how Greg navigated that section and rode straight through without stopping.  Win.  Win. Win.

For those curious, that section starts at the top of a very tall berm, turns sharply left over several nasty roots and drops straight down.  To navigate that section, one has to ride up a steep banked turn and then left the front wheel before dropping down.  Watching someone do it gave me the knowledge and the confidence to do it.

I still feel like dirt, but at least I got dirty.

And dang, the baked chicken and brussels sprouts I cooked when I got home took an edge off, as did the hot shower.



No, The Cat Did Not Poop In The Sink


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“This is really good!”  My 16 year old son stuffed another bite of lasagna into his mouth, then popped out of his chair and filled his plate with more.  Before he was finished with his dinner, half of the pan of lasagna was gone.

Miracles never cease.  The kid is more finicky than Morris the cat.  More often than not, he snubs his nose at whatever I have cooked for dinner, instead bawling for fast food.  He isn’t accustomed to having regular meals cooked for dinner, at least not until this year.  At the beginning of this year, I decided that I would cook more, do the grocery shopping more often with the hope of saving some money.  While that plan has not been a total win, it’s beginning to succeed more often.  I have figured out meals that my boy likes, such as chicken parmesan.  He is eating more often, with less of a fight.

And tonight’s compliment was a first.  The only other time I have heard something similar is when I make the cheese potato casserole for our family get togethers.

20160502_213045Of course, even when he likes something he is still finicky.  When I looked in the sink, I thought the cat had decided the sink would be a good litter box substitute.  The boy decided that he didn’t want so much sausage in his lasagna.

Next meal is a crustless quiche.  We’ll see if he says the same thing about that meal….

Killing Me Softly


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My right shoulder stung from the slap Brenda Deweese had just rendered, her thick lips pursed with an annoyed reprimand.  I suppose that I deserved the slap.  She had grabbed me from the throng that teemed around the dance floor, insisted that as a freshman representative of student council, I was obliged to dance and get others to dance.  Dancing was no problem for me, uninhibited as I was.  The apparent problem was that she expected me to dance with her.  I wanted to dance with everyone around us, pulled a few friends out on the floor with us.. thus the slap.  Brenda was a senior, president of the Rochester High School student council, and she expected me to defer to her, something I had continued to resist during my tenure on the student council.  I’m pretty sure it was Brenda who eventually proposed that only one freshman was necessary to represent our class, instead of two, the result being that I was voted off of the council.  Honestly, I deserved it.

Everyone went to the dances at our high school those days, even if it meant merely sitting in the bleachers or milling around the edge of the dance floor.  Most of the guys were too afraid of looking foolish to get out on the dance floor, the girls usually dancing with each other.  The guys would wait for the slow dance, the easy dance and a chance to get close.  I was the opposite — fast dances were my favorite and I was too shy for the slow dances.

Brenda had started something for me at that particular dance.  Suddenly I became a favorite for the junior and senior girls, one of the few guys who liked to dance.  The whole evening I barely got a chance to rest.  Every time I tried to make it to the bleachers, someone else pulled me back out on the floor.  As a 14 year old boy, I enjoyed the attention.  Funny thing was that, as a freshman boy, my popularity waned when the slow dances came, as did my confidence.  Like I said, I was too shy.

It was during a slow dance that I made it to the bleachers to catch my breath.  I sat and watched as the couples swayed in the dim light, wishing just a little that I could find a girl who wanted to slow dance with me.

And there she was.  Barbara Burdzilauskas.  Her friends were dancing with their boyfriends, but for some reason no one had asked her to dance.  Barb was a freshman, one of those petite sweet faced late bloomers who was just beginning to come out of that awkward 14 year old stage.  I had a bit of a crush on her, had thought for a while that she was a bit too pretty for me.  But dancing will all the upper classman girls had boosted my confidence a bit.  I caught Barb glancing over her shoulder at me, a hint of interest tossed my way.  Even the freshman boy that I was could pick that up.  As I stood up, an exhale passed my lips, my confidence sinking into my chest.  Brenda had turned and was looking my way.  I had better get moving before Brenda pulled me back out onto the floor.

I don’t remember what I said as I approached Barb, but I can still feel the burn of the blush on my cheeks.  All I know is that she said yes when I asked her to dance and that she told me that I was a good dancer as we began to dance.  Barb was my first slow dance, ever.  Not only that, but she didn’t seem to be nervous with me at all, something that almost instantly cured that blush and prompted me to hold her tight as we danced.  Our slow dance was not one of those awkward hands-on-her-hips-hands-on-his-shoulders dances.  We moved well together.   14 year old me was feeling pretty good about that.

The song ended, but we didn’t leave the dance floor.  For the rest of the evening, Barb was my dance partner.  When it came time for the last dance of the night, the dance competition, we stayed on the floor.  We were having fun, our eyes never leaving the other as we bounced around the floor for the fast dance.  Then the competition moved to the slow dance as Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly” filled the air, our hips moving in sync as we held each other tight.

We won the dance contest.  My prize was a Revell model kit of a ’57 Chevy.

The only other thing I remember from that night is the kiss on the cheek that Barb gave to me as she left.

When Monday came, I returned to my awkward self.  I never managed to ask Barb out, but we did stay friends throughout high school.  She always reserved one dance for me.  Barb bloomed rather nicely, doing some modeling during our high school years, a bit of a minor celebrity when she and a friend modeled Sedgefield jeans in a local television ad.  At our 25 year high school reunion, a reunion that I organized, Barb and her husband sat next to Miriam and I during the dinner.  She got me into hot water with Mir when she came up to me, a bit tipsy, hugged me around the neck.  When we got into the car to leave that night, a jealous Mir asked me what that was all about.

It was just a memory.  That was it.



The Purge


The question of the week has been this — how do I react?

Life to me really has come down to that question.

Even my reaction has come into question.

(I feel like talking in fragments tonight.. something that really bugs me when other bloggers do it.  Years ago, a drama queen adopted me very aggressively here in blogland.. and she.. always.. wrote in… dramatic fragments.. and she boiled.. bunnies)

Sunday started with a sermon delivered with honest frankness, a message that spoke to my sensibilities.  I don’t care if you believe in God the same way that I do and think that what I am about to say is kooky (I like that word), what the preacher said was not anything new to me, but he delivered a message in a way that felt new.  He said one thing that made me say “Uh huh.  Yep.”.  What basically said is that there is no such thing as a secret sin.  Most people do not face that sin, at least not completely, until they are caught in that sin.  We don’t want to face that shame.  God exposes that sin in order to get us to change.  Evil exposes that sin in order to try to destroy us.    Makes sense.  I’m not saying I have earth shattering secret sin, but what I was convicted of was the desire to change, to focus on purging what is in my life that evil can use to destroy me.

I’m certain that there are people who read that last paragraph who will think that I am some delusional numbskull.  So be it.  I have fit that bill for a long time.

What usually follows a time in my life where I want to change for the better, is a time where I am attacked.  It didn’t take long.

Sunday night began with what felt like an attempt to take me down.  Monday morning began with extreme disappointment, then continued as I got to work, then piled on as soon as I came home from work.  This is not going to be a blog where I give the details.  Let’s just say that my wife greeted me with a pile of problems and piled them on top of me quickly.

I looked at her calmly.  I think she expected me to freak out.  Then she said something to me that should have made me freak out angry.

“This isn’t affecting you at all, is it?  Do you really care?  You look like this isn’t affecting you at all.”

I did care.  I just cared in a different way than she did.

I walked away from her, insulted by the way she had just treated me.  I was aware that something outside of me was trying to drag me down.

Hate her.  Hate the circumstances.  Hate what is happening.

A large part of me just wanted to tell her to get fucked.  I didn’t do that.

I want to win.

I want to be able to face that which seeks to destroy me and say “no way”.

No way.  Leave me alone.

I chose not to dwell on the crap that was happening.  It was not as bad as it seemed.

It feels a lot like a long bicycle ride, one that is a challenge to finish.  There comes to a point in an epic ride, sometimes more than once, where I just have to make the decision to push through the pain.  It means focusing on the finish in order to keep going.  It might be a steep climb that wants to kick my butt, it might be a pace that just seems to strong to maintain.  It’s mind over matter.




Frankenstein’s Sleeping Winkle



My VW cruised around the back of the three story brick building, the lot dark with only the illumination from the clouded glass entry doors and lobby window casting light into the shadows of the parking lot.  My VW glided into the parking space next to the grassy curb, a spot I always look for out of habit.  There is a comfort from knowing no one is parked next to my car, as well as the little step that the curb provides when I emerge from my vehicle.  “Sleep Lab >” the sign had directed me around the building to the entrance.  I was there.

I was also early.  It was 9:32.  Instructions were to arrive by 9:45 PM for the 10:00 PM appointment.  Those who know me either flinch or smile or do both because they know how much I hate to be late for anything.  I’m one of those people who likes to step slowly into whatever is about to happen, wrap myself around it in anticipation.  I like to be prepared.  I want to absorb every bit and being early means that I am ready to do just that.  So I attempted to unwrap the little banana Laffy Taffy candy that I had saved for my wait inside the VW’s middle console, snarling as the candy adhered to the inside of the wrapper.  A bit of wrapper stayed with the candy, but I popped it in my mouth anyway.  It all comes out in the end.. or of the end.

I learned that from the welsh terrier my wife and I raised as our first child.  Syd greedily consumed everything he could beg, borrow or steal (mostly steal).  That meant he often consumed wrappers in his haste to eat the booty before we could take it from him.  If it was chocolate, the remnant would often drip from his terrier beard (don’t worry.. Syd was too ornery for chocolate to have any adverse affect on him).  Then there was the time that he ate the components from Mir’s breast pump.  Let’s just say that everything always came out of the end when Syd was involved, something that intrigued me every time that I cleaned up our back yard before mowing.  More often than not I found myself muttering “Geez, that must have hurt!” as I observed the crumpled foil that had obviously passed through our beloved terrier.  The breast pump components he consumedncame out whole and without teeth marks.  What my mother in law suggested when I came inside the house with those components is another story for another time.  Let’s just say she was one to reuse EVERYTHING.

I digress.

There was no one to greet me as I entered the unoccupied and quiet lobby of the Sleep Diagnostics Laboratory Center, only a sign that instructed those who entered to wait for a technician to retrieve them at the appointment time.  I signed in, then took my seat to wait for the tech.  She arrived early, greeted me, let me know that my assigned tech would be there shortly… and it turned out that she was the one who would be my tech.  Michelle came back a few minutes later, led me back to my room, gave me the story for how my evening would progress.

From the looks of all the wires and cables laid out on the bed, my evening was going to be interesting.  Michelle explained the purpose of the cables, where they would be attached in respect to my body — head, face, chest, ankles — as well as to the extent of monitoring that would be performed.  She told me that some patients did not adjust well to all of the cables attached to them, others do just fine.  There was a speaker at the head of the bed that would be used to communicate with me, as well as the way I would communicate with Michelle.  If I needed to visit the toilet, I would have to call Michelle to come disconnect the cables, all of which would be connected to a box hung around my neck.

20160420_215533Further monitoring would be performed through a camera mounted on the ceiling above the foot of the bed.  Michelle explained that recording would not begin until the test was started, so I did my own test and mooned the camera (kidding, really, I am more mature than that).  I could change into my bed clothes, which consisted of some gym shorts and an orange tee shirt, then take my seat at the foot of the bed to indicate to Michelle that I was ready for the test to begin.  Easy.  On cue, when I took my seat on the chair at the foot of the bed, Michelle appeared to start applying the monitoring cables.

Dang, there were more than I thought there would be, especially on my face and head.  Numerous sensors were attached to my face, neck, and chin, as well as a tube that monitored my breathing from both nostrils.  A microphone was glued directly below my lower lip to monitor my snoring.  Sensors were glued to my scalp as well as the back of my head.  Cables with sensors were dropped through the inside of my shorts and the sensors were glued to my ankles.  Other sensors were glued to my chest, something I knew would cause my to wince when they were removed at the conclusion of the sleep study.

Michelle explained that she would wake me up at different times of the night, with instructions that would vary with the progression of collected data.  They would want to see what happened as I slept on my back, each side, as well as what was observed in regards to sleep apnea (blocked, obstructed breathing that occurs during sleep).  If apnea was detected, something that is not always indicated by snoring, then they also would likely want to test the affect of a CPAP machine and mask, starting with a mask that only covers my nose.  Depending on the affect of that mask, a full face mask might also be tested.

I slept well.  I thought that might be the case, enough that hours really seemed like minutes.  I did indeed have to wear the CPAP mask, but only needed the nasal mask since I adapted to that mask with no issues.  Wearing the mask was strange at first.  The machine basically works by applying air through the mask into the patient’s airway, keeping the airway open and preventing obstruction (and snoring).  I got used to it quickly.

I got used to it until I tried to talk.  Imagine sticking the hose from a vacuum on your nose, then trying to open your mouth.  Basically, you suck everything in the room into your mouth.

I wish that I had thought to leave my cell phone in the bathroom.  At one point, I did have to request to take a tinkle.  No, I don’t mean that I wanted to record that.  But I did take that opportunity to look at myself in the mirror and at all the wires attached to my face.  Wow!  There were a lot of wires.  Frankenstein’s monster had nothing on me, although at least I didn’t have bolts holding my head on.

At 5 AM, Michelle bounced into the room to let me know that the study was complete.  I could change, shower, and let myself out.  Results would be sent to my doctor.  The wires were removed expertly, with no chest hair harmed.  Voila!

I liked not having to wait for the shower.  I liked driving home at 5:30 AM, without traffic.  Of course, Miriam had locked the front storm door, so I had to text her to let me in.  I sauntered in as she trudged sleepily back upstairs, then plopped on the couch for a little more sleep.

Done.  No big deal.  For those of you resigned to the same fate, don’t worry.

Steve van Winkle

If you chose to read this blog because you thought the title read “Steve’s van Winky”, then shame on you.

Tomorrow night, I pay someone to watch me sleep.  Usually, that’s my bosses job, but he pays me, not the other way around.  It might cost less money if I just made my wife extra angry.

I’m full of bad jokes and will never apologize for it.

Is it strange that I am looking forward to the sleep study?  I am.  The doctor told me that the place where the sleep study is performed is like a really nice hotel room without windows.  And he also told me they will give me all the ice cream that I want.

Oh wait, that’s what the doctor told me when I was six and about to get my tonsils out.  They gave me ice cream AND strawberry Jello then.

I should probably put my pajamas in the wash right now.

What I am not looking forward to is the potential of needing to sleep with one of those CPAP machines.  Those masks look awful.  If it means that I will not wake up with a flock of female geese gathered outside of my window, then I guess it is worth it.

Do I need to explain that last joke?

My doctor suggested a pulmonary test and evaluation for sleep study after my recent bout with dizziness and hypertension.  Sleep apnea could be contributing to the high blood pressure.  I have been snoring roughly since I turned 50, loudly so I am told, enough that I often am awarded my own hotel room when I take trips with the guys.  So, if the machine solves the snoring issue, I guess it is worth it.  What I do know is that I don’t have many of the symptoms that go with sleep apnea — I don’t have fatigue during the day, I don’t fall asleep while reading or in church (well, maybe in church), and I …… zzzzzzzz…

I do know that snoring has helped me to sleep better.  I get a whole bed to myself.

For those who don’t know what sleep apnea is, sleep apnea means basically that a person stops breathing while they are breathing, usually because loose tissue blocks or obstructs the airway when the body is prone and relaxed.  That is why most people snore when they are on their back.  The brain is telling the lungs to breath, thinks it is happening, but it’s not happening.  Usually the struggle to breath causes a person to wake up, many times not consciously, and usually many times in an hour.  That is why daytime fatigue is a symptom of sleep apnea.  During the sleep study, the patient is monitored to see how many times they stop breathing an hour.  There is a scale that determines the degree of sleep apnea.  Generally, if one stops breathing more than five times an hour, then sleep apnea is diagnosed.

I wonder how difficult it is to sleep with a bunch of wires attached to me?  I guess that I am going to find out real soon.  If only I were allowed to bring my cat with me to the sleep study, because then I would have no problem sleeping.

Yes, I am a man who likes cats.  And maybe sleep studies.

OK, well, wish me a happy study.  I’ll be dreaming of you all.




Now We Dance


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Tonight was one of this evenings that began with a song not just in my heart, but with music all around me.  West Chicagoland was sunny, the weather warm enough to energize me in that special way that only the anticipation of riding my mountain bike can provide.  I had the office to myself.  Pump It Up with Elvis Costello came up on my playlist, the volume insteadly adjusted in the upward direction.  I danced out of the office and out to my car.

This over 50 dad is one excellent dancer, by the way.  Believe me.  I am.  I would never fib about that.  Besides, I have been told so more than once.. and very recently.

Bike loaded on my car, I rocked all the way to the trailhead.  Elvis Costello gave way to Earth Wind and Fire who gave way to Chickenfoot.  I kept dancing, my mood soaring as I pulled into the trail parking lot and unloaded my bike.

The ride was unfreaking believable, 58 degrees at first pedal turn.  My friends, Greg and Estaban, were there.  I parked next to their cars, met them 2 minutes in.  Before starting the ride, I had pumped up the rear shock and used the auto adjust valve to dial it in.  My bike was responding, the handling just right, the ride fast.  The ride was 90 minutes of pure bliss.  Greg and Esteban are faster than I am, eventually rode ahead of me.  When I finally called it an evening and reached the parking lot, they were already gone.

I opened up my car, shed my hydration pack, gloves and helmet, threw on my hat, grabbed the key to unlock my bike rack, loaded my bike up.

And I began to dance.  A car pulled up with loud music playing, four high school girls inside.  They yelled out the car windows.

“Show us your moves!”

Who can resist that?  I had to dance for them.

There were no dollar bills involved.

I returned to the side of my car to shed my bike shoes and change into my flip flops.

“Hey mister, you’re really good.  Will you dance with me for my Snap Chat video?”

Of course.

Let’s hope that video doesn’t go viral.


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